The Oatlands Invitational is known for its blazing fast opening mile. It starts with a shotgun blast that gets everyone amped and the terrain is mostly flat or downhill for the first 1.5 miles. It is not unusual for a pack of boys to plow through the one mile mark in under 4:45. It was strange this year when the lead pack in the varsity 'A' boys race only came through the first mile in 5:00 when the weather was actually favorable for racing. Skies were overcast and the temperature was in the 70's with a breeze. Leading that initial pack by just a slim margin was Richard Montgomery's Rohann Asfaw.
"That was exactly what I wanted to do - go out in five minutes," said Asfaw. "The start of the race...everyone seemed kind of conservative. Everyone was kind of staying back and I wanted to pick up the pace a little bit so I took the lead early on which is something I don't usually do but I felt comfortable doing it today because I was feeling good."
Asfaw had plenty of company throughout the race, even as he hit the large hill at about the 2.5 mile mark. He said that he used the Loudon Valley guys, including second place runner Peter Morris, to lift himself up the hill. As he crested the hill, he pumped his arms and surged into the lead. Morris stayed the closest but he was able to continue surging and outkick Morris over the final stretch.
Asfaw topped what is likely to be one of the strongest fields to be assembled in Virginia, Maryland or DC this season. He is just the second runner from Maryland to ever win the Varsity 'A' race at the Oatlands Invitational and the accomplishment was not lost on Asfaw.
"It's really special. It's very satisfying to know. It got me excited for what's to come next, and I'm really happy."
Asfaw celebrated his victory by hitting dem folks after he crossed the finish line. I am told that my readers will understand what that means even if I do not.
"We do that at practice all the time so I felt the need to do it," said Asfaw on his celebration.
The Walter Johnson ladies cross country team took third place at the Oatlands Invitational behind only George C. Marshall and Osbourne Park of Virginia. Afterwards, Walter Johnson head coach Tom Martin made an important observation.
"All of our girls are ahead of where they were last year at this point," said Martin.
Of course, Walter Johnson got off to an alarmingly slow start in 2015 before surging in the second half of the season to win a third consecutive state title. Walter Johnson finished 19th at Oatlands last year, so this year's third place finish and highest finish by a Maryland team looks rosy by comparison.
"You gotta look at the progress they are making, and they are making progress. I'm happy about that," said Martin. "We've got work to do of course, and they know that."
WJ's lead runner Abigail Green left no doubt that she is stronger now than she was last year. Green won the Track and Trail Invitational last week with a 17:54.7 performance, but having never run that course, there was no point of reference for comparison. This week, she shaved 49 seconds off her time from Oatlands a year ago, finishing second in 18:17.
Green said that she tried to get out as fast as she could and spot the other girls that she knew. After clocking approximately a 5:20 first mile, she chased Marshall's Heather Holt into the second half of the course which is notably more challenging. As Holt proved to be the stronger runner and pulled away in the second half, Green says that she focused on maintaining pace and didn't get discouraged.
"I'm just really happy because I took my summer training more seriously this year," said Green. "I'm just really happy that it is paying off and that I am stronger this year than I was last year."
When asked if winning the fourth consecutive state title was the goal, Green said:
"We're working hard...winning states four times in a row - that's a big deal. We're working towards it...Today we did pretty well. We still have some girls who could possibly be on our varsity team who are injured. I think that we have a strong team and I think we are really motivated and we have a really positive attitude towards it."
The top boys team from Maryland at this year's Oatlands Invitational was the Good Counsel Falcons who finished sixth behind five Virginia teams. Head coach Tom Arnold said that his team ran terribly the week before at the Howard County Invitational, which he attributed to their inability to cope with the heat. Good Counsel avoids training in intense heat by practicing before school. The team's performance at Oatlands in much more temperate conditions left Arnold more satisfied.
"Overall I think our varsity guys ran pretty well. We didn't think we could finish as high as sixth place so I think they will be pretty excited."
He added that he liked the way they raced but that the pack of guys was more fractured than he would have liked.
Other notable performances included: Good Counsel's Claudia Wendt edged out Walter Johnson's Katriane Kirsch 19:46 to 19:50 to round out the top three girls from Montgomery County. Coach Arnold says that Wendt is not quite where she was last year after what he described as a number of issues experienced over the last nine months, but he believes that they can get her back to the point that she was at before she got injured last year.
Northwood's Obsaa Feda won the Varsity 'B' race with no challengers in sight. His finish time was 16:55. Poolesville and Whitman each put two boys in the top fifteen in the Varsity 'A' race - Andrew Lent (16:21) and Ryan Lockett (16:35) from Poolesville; and Aaron Bratt (16:32) and Joshua Engles (16:38) from Whitman.